Alright it's opening week of Season 80 and every VHL team has gotten around 8 or 9 games under their respective belts. The Malmo Nighthawks and the D.C. Dragons were expected to both be strong teams this year and it seems like both teams have made good on those expectations by starting out the year with the early lead of their respective conferences. The Dragons (6-2-0) are currently leading the North American Conference with 12 points and the defending champion Nighthawk team (8-1-0) is currently the top team in the league and are leading the European Conference with 16 points.
Some team's like the Toronto Legion and the Helsinki Titans however have only recorded a single win so far are showing early signs that they're going to have to go through a rough times this season. The Seattle Bears who lost in last year's finals against the Nighthawks haven't been much better than the Legion/Titans and have had quite the fall from grace since making the finals and are struggling out of the gate and have only managed to pick up a couple of wins so far this season.
Then there's the Menace. After being a VHL bottom feeder for years the Menace have come flying out of the gate with a 7-1 record and a suddenly explosive offense. They are currently trailing the Nighthawks by only two points for top team in the league standings. This is such a drastic transformation has got the league talking and the Menace bringing on a bunch of new bandwagon fans.
The Menace team went through quite a few changes during the last offseason and were hoping to make more of a impact this year as they are chasing their first ever playoff berth in 4 seasons. Their GM, Spartan made a lot of moves to pick up core pieces for his team during the last few years and I bet he's really hoping that those moves start paying off for him, now. Today I'll be highlighting Spartan's offseason changes to his Menace squad and I'll be touching base with him to gain some insight on some of these moves straight from the source.
Trading Kyle Glass for Kevin King
Yeah yeah I know this wasn't a offseason move, but I felt I should talk about this trade deadline acquisition anyways since it did affect a future move made by the team. The Menace acquired veteran centerman Kevin King from the London United as well as a third round selection in S81 in return for a younger winger in Kyle Glass. Glass was drafted in 22nd Overall by Moscow in the S77 draft and wasn't getting much ice time with the Menace and was having a poor year scoring only 20 points in 62 games and going -10. He was given a change of scenery and has since broke out with the United team scoring 23 points in 21 games. King at the time of the trade was already a PPG player scoring 67 points in 59 games for London. Moscow's chances to make the playoffs were on the verge of being over and King who only had another season left to his career was a last ditch effort by the Moscow GM to make a cinderella run to a playoff berth. That obviously didn't work out as King only scored a single point for the Menace and went -3 to close off the year. At this point you just gotta hope that King still has enough left in the tank to return to form for his last season in the VHL.
Acquiring Tyler Walker
Spartan didn't fuck around and the day the trade freeze was lifted he made his first move of the off season and acquired veteran defender Tyler Walker in return for a third round selection in the S80 draft. Walker is a veteran of 7 VHL seasons and spent his last two years playing for the Calgary Wranglers before the trade. The Menace will be the fourth and last team he will play on as this will be his last season before retirement as he's been in the league a while and Walker will soon find himself needing a walker himself cus he's old as shit. Walker showed last season that he can still play at a elite level and is coming off a 62 point season playing on a mediocre Wrangler's team. Walker definitely improves this team as Moscow is still for the most part a younger team and veterans like Walker might be needed to push this team to the next level. Also, for the last few seasons the Menace has been pretty thin on the blueline and adding Walker to the group of Bob Tristan, Hard Markinson and Aurelien Moreau might now make this one of the best bluelines in the league.
Trading away King for Lexi Glass
Remember that King guy I talked about earlier? Well turns out he didn't end up staying in Moscow after that 9 game trial run at the end of S79. Shortly after the Walker trade went down, King along with a 3rd rounder was traded to Warsaw in return for winger, Lexi Glass who is a year younger than King. A good thing to note is that Glass is a player that has already played a total 67 career playoff games and has won the Continental Cup in S78 so Moscow is getting a boat load of playoff experience in this trade. Also this is a player that was just a single point shy from reaching the 100 point milestone last year. What Moscow is getting here is a prime time elite winger that knows how to win games and they only gave up a player that just wasn't gelling with the Menace's style of game for some odd reason. Hopefully Glass can experience a hell of a season here in Moscow and I hope we can convince her to stay here for another year after this one.
Trading away captain Tristan for Johansson:
All of a sudden, out from left field the Menace decided to surprise all their fans by continuing the habit of trading away their captains by trading Bob Tristan to Los Angeles in exchange for a cheaper defender in Arvid Johansson. This left people scratching their heads as Tristan was a vocal member of the team's locker room atmosphere. Spartan assured his team to have patience and that more moves were in the works and a drop in salary was necessary for future plans. Still Tristan will be missed as he was a steadying presence on a rather poor blueline for a few years while the team was going through their hard rebuild years. Still Johansson is no slouch he plays a very responsible game and already has the composure level of a VHL pro despite being a young defender. Johansson just finished out a solid rookie campaign with the L-A Stars scoring 29 points and going +24. Johansson still has time to grow as a player where Tristan was pretty much at his peak so this wasn't a bad trade to make at all. Yeah it's a slight downgrade but it might be a good move for the team long term and who knows Johansson with hard work can always end up becoming a better defender than Tristan ever was. After seeing how Moscow has the tendency to trade their captains I'm convinced the captain's seat in Moscow is in fact cursed and if that's the case new captain Philip Stein should be looking to sell his home in Moscow soon enough.
When asked about the Menace Captaincy curse:
"I've joked around a bit that the captain role is a curse on this team, and I suppose there is some merit to it. The last time I named a defenseman, Fat Palloon, as team captain in S76, he was traded to Prague mid-season in exchange for cap relief and future assets. The captaincy in Moscow generally works in a simple way, where one of the longest tenured, active members of the team receives the C. It's been that way since before I even took over this team. It also sort of works in a negative way, since older players with a lot of tread on their tires end up as prime candidates for trades to acquire more draft picks, and to free up cap space."
-Spartan, Menace GM
Trading away Bowman and Lemiuex to Toronto:
This big trade didn't involve the acquisition of anybody really it was more of a move to get rid of a few contracts to free up some cash to make a gamble on some other moves and maybe acquire a UFA or two. The contracts the team decided to part with was Andrew Bowman and Jaromir Lemiuex and this trade must've hurt to make as Bowman is the AGM here in Moscow and this move must've tugged at some of Spartan's heart strings. But it ain't all bad. With S79 1st Overall pick, Papa Emeritus surpassing Bowman in TPE , Bowman was going to be relegated from the team's starting role to that of the backup. This trade gives Bowman a chance to continue being a starting netminder in the VHL. Jaromir Lemiuex who was also given up in the deal was a rookie coming off a spectacular rookie season in which he was third in rookie scoring with 50 points and was a contender for the Stolzschweiger trophy which is awarded to the league's rookie of the year. Unfortunately Lemiuex has vanished from the VHL hockey scene and is currently considered an inactive player, hence why Moscow could all of sudden want to part ways with him.
When asked about how hard it was to trade Bowman away:
"It's usually quite difficult to trade away any active player, let alone someone who I rely on as my AGM and have a good relationship with. However, trading Bowman away in this instance was actually easier than you might imagine. We'd actually spoken about this quite a while ago, where he even brought up the idea of sending Bowman to another team for assets, or some cap help. Toronto was a great fit since they had no starting goaltender at all, so he'd get quite a large number of minutes which would be good for his development"
-Spartan, Menace GM
The Acquisition of Rara Rasputin
Once the UFA season came about it finally all made sense why the Menace was dropping all that salary. They were planning all along to make a free agency pitch to bring back goaltender Rara Rasputin who the Menace drafted 16th Overall back in Season 75 before trading him after his rookie season to Seattle in return for an older and more experienced netminder at the time Jacob Tonn. Rasputin of course then went on to have a pretty successful 4 seasons in Seattle and has won a Continental Cup and a Daisuke Kanou trophy with the Bears in S77 and has backstopped his team to three straight finals appearances. Rasputin like Glass is bringing in tons of playoff experience to a team who hasn't made the playoffs let alone play in them in a long time. This of course relegates Papa Emeritus to the backup role once again but @Beketov sees what's best for the team has been nothing but professional and accepting to his backup role.
When discussing the Rasputin trade the GM had this to add:
"We had our eyes on signing Rara Rasputin to the team from the time we knew he planned to leave Seattle. He was a former top pick by our organization years ago, and bringing him back in his prime was an opportunity we couldn't pass up. Unfortunately, we were in quite the cap bind, and our plan was to trade just Bowman and Lemieux away to make room for Rasputin. However, that would have left us with 5 forwards, 4 defensemen and 2 goalies, and we really wanted to run a proper 6-4-2. That meant that we had to send away Tristan and his $3 milllion cap hit and bring in two players on rookie contracts who would combine for $3 million - Johansson and Markov. A difficult decision to make, but one that was necessary for our organization, and also sets us up nicely for the future with two young players coming in to replace some veterans."
-Spartan, Menace GM
All this playoff experience will be highly valuable to this young team and I think the odds of this team making the playoffs this season has greatly improved with this years additions. The Menace just didn't have much when it came to experience and our team was consistently cracking under pressure last year and moves were made to address the problem. Now it's up to the younger players on the team to take in as much as they can from these veteran leaders while they're here and apply the new found wealth of knowledge to their own games. If that happens this year, the Menace might finally be a real Menace to the VHL standings in S80.